Early bloomer? Late Bloomer? Just right where you are?

Rhodedendron May 2017

Look at this picture of a rhododendron in the Arboretum. On this particular day, this plant had everything – tightly wound buds with but a tiny hint of pink, a cluster of blossoms with one flower section bursting out and the rest still closed, a bunch of blossoms nearly fully in bloom, and everything in between. Is this plant an “early bloomer?” A “late bloomer?” The more I studied it, the more I felt nurtured by its multi-faceted presence. It held everything – all the stages of blossoming – just like us. “Early” and “late” have a qualitative connotation – one is deemed as positive and the other as at least slightly negative. Looking at this plant the other day, I could not imagine judging any single part of it – it simply was responding to the particular mix of sun, rain, soil, and other conditions in its own unique, beautiful way. The first buds to blossom were no more deserving of attention, admiration, and nurturing, than the ones yet to come. I felt compelled to embrace more deeply the fundamental truth that we are all “mixed bags.” Different parts of us mature at different times — and just as we can hold in wonder a baby’s first steps – at nine months, one year, or seventeen months, we can offer ourselves and each other that same tenderness.

I have always been responsible, “mature for my age.” At least that’s what I thought. I took care of my younger siblings, did lots of chores, read early, marched through all the expected academic stages steadfastly and well, provided emotional support to my parents, and didn’t “cause any trouble.”

However, I entered my 20’s without many skills in the area of relationships, especially romantic relationships. I was scared, selfish, and unconsciously reacting from a trigger-ready bag of hurt and confusion. It took years and years before I truly understood my behavior and before I could have a healthy, mutual, unconditionally loving, life partner relationship. On the other hand, I was a fairly mature mother right from the start; I had a lot of skills and understanding about parenting. At the same time (on the third or fourth hand?), I had plenty of missteps, was unskilled in certain areas of mothering, and am in an ongoing, unending learning process, as I continue to grow as a parent of young adult children.

Along the way, I have felt ashamed of my immature parts. I have wanted to hide them, and spent way too many years judging myself and castigating myself for my imperfections. As I sit with people now, friends, clients, and family members, I often hear this same judgment. “Why am I still struggling with self-doubt at 37 years old?” “I can’t believe that I am still so angry at my parents; I am 45 years old!” “I still feel so embarrassed that I married that person, and we have not been together for more than ten years!” “We have been together for twelve years, but my wife and I have never talked about this part of our relationship. What’s wrong with us?”

What is this arbitrary map we set for ourselves? The things is, we are all beloved  – exactly as we are right now. There is an overflow of love, acceptance, and unwavering hope for each of us. Our human nature is perfectly in tune with nature itself. Some parts just starting to bloom; some parts not yet ready to flower, some parts needing some pruning or extra nourishment, and some parts in full, blossomy glory.

It takes courage, persistence, grace, and support to understand ourselves, to hope, and to change. It is not a linear path, and it is fraught with many obstacles of vulnerability, loneliness, and confusion. Gentleness is key. I celebrate the ways in which I have been able to heal, to let go of limiting beliefs, to forgive myself and others, and to feel alive and bursting with optimism. I am touched every single day by the people I sit with, who are willing to be honest about their path and are tenderly taking even the tiniest step forward towards fully loving themselves. Their blossoms – just like the mystery of each individual petal, leaf, and twig are an incredible teacher and inspiration.

May your own “mixed bag” nature continue to grow into the most magnificent expression of yourself.

 

mixed bag 1

Dirty Laundry

dirty-laundry

For a long time I labored under the semi-unconscious delusion that to “be spiritual” or to be a “spiritual teacher,” I had to be – well not exactly perfect, because I knew that to be human is to be imperfect – but somehow on the way to perfection. I have been admitting this to myself lately – and how this manifested in two main ways: 1) hiding parts of either my past or my present that seemed messy, embarrassing, and/or terribly imperfect and 2) holding back on sharing my fullest, most radiant parts. In a conversation with a spiritual companion recently, I recognized that I was stuck in a kind of dualistic paradigm – either I am a “good spiritual person” or an “imperfect fraud.” She offered the idea of polarity instead of dualism. I have been thinking about this, using the definition from Merriam-Webster: polarity: “attraction toward a particular object or in a specific direction.” Sometimes I am sitting squarely in my imperfection, and sometimes I am manifesting radiance. But perhaps it is more of a spiral or a prism – not two opposing poles. A prism that turns to reveal my messy, imperfect self and holds, at the same time, the parts of me that have matured and are flowing. Or maybe it is even less of an opposing tension than even this reveals. Perhaps our whole selves simply contain everything all at once, and if we could take a picture that revealed this, the mess and radiance would simply light up as it manifested, sometimes even at the same time!

To what end are these meanderings? Underneath all our “stories” – the family into which we were born, the history of our lives, the specific joys and pains, whatever our soul brought in this time around, and there is a whole, heart-centered, connected, pulsing being, who exists without striving or regret. It both seeks out and responds to experiences as a way to grow and, more specifically, as a way to recognize others’ inner, light-filled selves. The “awakened heart” of Buddhism or the “pure soul” of Judaism or the Hindu concept of “atman” or eternal soul, point us again and again to this interconnected web of being-ness.

In our attachment to our stories or our striving for improvement, we often miss the present moment of noticing what is. Even if what is is very challenging, the aliveness and vitality of being with can bring us to this pure, awakened, eternal inner self. More importantly, when we notice exactly where we are, we can become more aware of the ways in which we are attached to our “stories,” even when they no longer serve us. I was speaking with someone today, who said she is embarrassed to be receiving financial assistance from a family member because he is younger than her. Culturally and psycho-dynamically, this is considered shameful in her family. What if, I offered, you looked at shame as a coat you put on mistakenly? One that looked like it was going to fit but actually didn’t? What about trying on a different coat? It could be just a plain coat of neutrally noticing. Or it could be a shiny coat of gratitude. But whatever coat we put on, we have to notice it first before we can choose to either keep it on or try on a different one.

In Jack Kornfield’s book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, Kornfield writes: “…it is in a deep and honest listening to whatever has been feared or left out that our freedom will be found. And if we don’t choose to look, that which is unattended will come to find us; the lost parts of ourselves will present themselves, knocking even louder if we don’t hear their cries.” My soul is calling for me to notice that I have been wearing the coat of perfectionism, and it no longer fits (never really did, of course, but now I am noticing how itchy it is!). In removing this coat, I am actually picturing just standing upright without any coat at all – just me – sometimes embarrassed and sometimes proud; sometimes skillful and sometimes clumsy. Would you like to join me in this dance of just being?